HD 96 preview: The search for Democratic roots

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The voters of House District 96 are not really yellow-dog Democrats; the color of the dog doesn’t matter. Incumbent Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, the Democrats’ House Floor Leader, can’t run again because of term limits. That opens a safe Democratic seat.

Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs and former state representative Steve Perman face off in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary. The winner then takes on write-in candidate Ronald Bray in November for the seat in the Florida Legislature.

House District 96 is bordered by State Route 827 on the north and Florida’s Turnpike to the east. It stretches west into part of Coral Springs and south to North Lauderdale, taking in Coconut Creek, Margate and Parkland.

Democrats make up 48 percent of the district’s registered voters; Republicans account for 26 percent.  President Barack Obama carried 61 percent of the vote in 2012 and Gov. Rick Scott received 39 percent in 2010.

Waldman said seniors are the key to victory, “and they are pretty liberal. They support public education and accessible health care.”

Jacobs has served 16 years on the Broward County Commission. She has twice as much campaign money on hand as Perman and has the endorsements of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, former Congressman Robert Wexler and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Jacobs says she has an army of volunteers who will carry her message to voters.

“This campaign is based on a long career of service to southeast Florida and a desire to bring that experience to Tallahassee and chart a new progressive direction for our state,” said Jacobs.   “People here know the kind of character I have and the work I’ve done. My opponent has never been on the ballot in Broward County and doesn’t have the grass-roots infrastructure I have.”

Perman said what he does have is experience working with a Republican majority.  He represented nearby HD 78 from 2010 to 2012, but was defeated in a re-election bid by Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boca Raton.  He hired Campaign Associates and Gold Coast veteran political operative David Brown to get his message to Broward voters.

“If we use our money intelligently, we’ll be able to get a very clear message out to the District 96 voters as to why I’m the better choice for this position,” said Perman.

Perman has raised $65,467 and spent $26,000, according to the state Division of Elections.  He reports nearly 270 contributions with more than $5,000 coming from chiropractor associations and about 70 percent of the money coming from health-related interests.  Perman supports expanding Medicaid eligibility as called for under the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to Waldman, representatives Gwendolyn Clarke-Reed and Hazel Rogers along with Sens. Maria Sachs and Jeff Clemens have endorsed Perman.

“They were with me in Tallahassee and saw me in action,” said Perman. “They saw I had an ability to maintain good core Democratic values and still be able to get legislation done.”

Steve Vancore of Vancore-Jones Communications is managing Jacobs’ campaign. It reports raising $182,593 from 467 contributions and spending $126,286. Jacobs’ contributors represent a mixed bag of professions including engineers, architects, real estate interests and attorneys. She credits her work on water issues for attracting a diverse base of support.

Even though she has more than twice the money, 16 years experience as an elected official in the district, and has easily won re-election three times, Jacobs is running hard.

“I’m taking nothing for granted,” she said before drawing attention to her opponent’s contribution to a chiropractor association that has given money to Republican House candidates.

“I don’t think that’s going to sit well in a Democratic primary,” said Jacobs.

Perman, a chiropractor, concedes that he lacks the name recognition, record and finances of his opponent but remains upbeat.

“She is a county commissioner, which is an administrative position and I have the experience of being a state legislator,” said Perman. “I’m promoting myself, not attacking my opponent. I feel very good about my prospects.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.